The medieval tiles at St Davids Cathedral

There are an impressive number of medieval tiles on the floor of the presbytery at St Davids Cathedral. Many are designed to make larger patterns in combination with others, using either a single tile that is rotated to make a circular pattern, or a set of four tiles which are rotated to make a pattern of sixteen tiles.

Many are composed of abstract or floreate patterns, although some of the patterns have birds and animals. A smaller number have heraldic motifs, and a couple have texts. They probably date to around 1500, and tiles of the same design can be found at other sites in Pembrokeshire, as well as Bristol, Gloucester and many other places in Worcestershire, which is perhaps where they were made.

The piece that is being shown across the churches for the Art on the Faith Trail is based on one of the larger circular patterns made up of sixteen tiles. It includes eagles at the corners and four pairs of birds facing each other in the centre quatrefoil. Of the four tiles, three are only found at St Davids in Wales, although examples of the tile with the birds on have been found at Haverfordwest and at Carew-Cheriton, and further examples of them all are found in England.

The images below show examples of each tile, and some redrawing of the design. This redrawing, particularly of the curves, partly regularised the pattern to make it work better as a complete image. In most cases, it was helpful to compare several examples of a design, as many were worn away, particularly around the edges, making it difficult to establish exactly what the original tile looked like.

The redrawing of the tiles echoes the manufacture of new tiles for the cathedral during the time of its restoration in the nineteenth century. Many of the medieval tile patterns were recreated for new pavements, particularly in and around the choir and choir aisles.

More of the patterns will be studied and drawn in order to make a new set of images based on the cathedral’s medieval tiles for an exhibition in the Cloister Gallery in October 2019. This follows on from similar previous work on aspects of medieval visual culture from churches in Wales, notably the work based on the medieval tiles at Strata Florida.

As well as making new prints based on the tiles, a small book will also be produced in time for the exhibition and published by Sulien Books.

The medieval tiles at St Davids Cathedral